ACCC alleges Voltaren misled shoppers with premium priced gel

Commences Federal Court action against the manufacturers.

The makers of pain relief product Voltaren are being taken to Federal Court by the competition watchdog for claiming an identical product was designed to treat osteoarthritis and then flogging it for a higher price.

It is the second court action from the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) in recent times to focus on products alleging specialised treatment, after the High Court upheld a $6 million fine against the makers of Nurofen for its range of targeted pain relief products.

The ACCC is alleging GSK Healthcare, together with the previous owner of Voltaren, Novartis, made false or misleading representations during a period of more than six years. 

The two manufacturers claimed Voltaren Osteo Gel was specifically formulated to treat osteoarthritic conditions, when it contained the same active ingredients as its cheaper Voltaren Emulgel.

The recommended retail price set by the manufacturers was 11% higher for the 150g Voltaren Osteo Gel, but price sampling by the watchdog found differences in pricing as high as 33%.

One store sampled was selling 150g Voltaren Osteo Gel for $7.50 more than the 150g Emulgel at $29.

The two companies allegedly "engaged in a deliberate commercial strategy to differentiate the products in a way that was likely to mislead consumers," says Rod Sims, chair of the ACCC.

"The product has an identical formulation to Emulgel, and both products are equally effective in treating not only osteoarthritis, but also a range of other pain conditions," he adds.

GSK Healthcare, which has owned Voltaren's portfolio of products since 2016, claims it updated the packaging of Osteo Gel in March, and that it does have a different design.

"While it contains the same effective formulation as Voltaren Emulgel, we believe the design of the packaging helps people with osteoarthritis open the cap more easily and the instructions for use reflect the TGA approved instructions for use in osteoarthritis," a spokesperson says. "We were of the view the product name reflects this."

Novartis could not provide a comment at the time of publication.

The claims that Voltaren Osteo Gel was specifically formulated to treat osteoarthritis have been made since October 2010 up until March 2017.

The ACCC is seeking declarations, injunctions, pecuniary penalties, a publication order, the imposition of a compliance program and costs.